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Textbooks not quite dinosaurs at Gainesville schools
Leaders encourage use of online devices
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Gone are the days of trudging to school in the snow, uphill both ways, perilously carrying a stack of heavy textbooks.

Today, with many courses at all grade levels including more online learning, there is more information found at low to no cost to school systems. It’s something many school systems are taking advantage of, including Gainesville’s.

This year, Fair Street School students will be the first in the system to have take-home devices issued to them. The elementary students will Kuno tablet devices when they move into their new school some time in October.

The software on these devices allows teachers to download the resources the child will need.

"So when they go home, they’ll have everything they need, even without Internet access," explained Jamey Moore, director of curriculum and instruction.

The end goal is for every student to have a take-home device, but it will be a while before that becomes a reality. Until then, the school system is focused on using the resources inside the classroom.

"At this point, we’re really focusing on the areas where we don’t have the devices in student hands," said Moore. "We’re making sure the teachers use digital resources in the whole group class experience, or in the computer labs provided in the schools."

Many Gainesville classrooms have a bring-your-own technology initiative, where students can use tablets or smartphones they bring from home to access materials while in the classroom.

There remains a need for traditional, text-based books, so Gainesville is purchasing new math books for grades kindergarten through eighth this school year. At the high school level, the system is looking at developing and adopting teacher-created materials for use in math.

According to Sarah Bell, director of academic programs and standards, it has been about six years since new math textbooks were adopted.

"The high school has had (math) textbooks more recently," she said.

The textbook purchase will support the subject curriculum for the next six years, Bell said.

Textbooks at the elementary level will cost about $275,000 and middle school textbooks $140,000, Bell and Moore said. Bell called it a "large sum," but that it goes to purchase "a very comprehensive solution."

The only possible additional costs would be those to support increased enrollment.

"We were fortunate to receive a number of materials at no cost to better support teachers and students, so the total value of the materials is over $1 million," Bell said.

It also covers access to the digital textbook option, which offers a Spanish version of student materials.

Last year, Gainesville teachers did not use textbooks in math as they got used to the new Common Core curriculum. But now city school system officials said they feel confident in the selection of the new books, especially as they also come in a digital format.

One of the great features about the transition to more digital-based, blended and online learning is the ability to update materials more quickly.

"As the state had made all of their changes to math, if you’re purchasing a six-year textbook contract, you can get stuck without the ability to adapt to the changes," Moore pointed out. "So with the digital resources you’re able to have that update (automatically) occurring."

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